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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

Nepal's Tibet dilemma

September 1, 2008

By Bhumika Ghimire
UPI Asia
August 29, 2008

West Lafayette, IN, United States, -- Prime Minister Prachanda,
during his visit to Beijing to attend the closing ceremony of the
Olympics and meet with the country's leaders, said that Nepal wants
to maintain a balanced relationship with both of its neighbors –
India and China. This comes after speculations that Kathmandu is
moving diplomatically closer to its communist neighbor, after the
Maoists formed the new government and when the Nepalese prime
minister's first official foreign visit was to China, breaking with
the tradition of Nepali leaders visiting New Delhi first.

Prachanda is undoubtedly walking a diplomatic tightrope by trying to
please both of Nepal's powerful neighbors. The question of Tibet
makes this already tough balancing act even more difficult.

For centuries, Nepal has enjoyed a very close cultural, social and
economic relationship with Tibet and its people. After the political
changes in the region, the country welcomed hundreds of refugees,
even though it had a very weak economy. Nepal has always had and
continues to have a special place for Tibetans.

Over the years, changes in Tibet have attracted worldwide attention.
The Chinese government is often accused of denying Tibetans their
rights, stifling religious freedom, destroying religious monuments
and documents and arresting dissenters. In the West, the "Tibetan
cause" has been embraced by many, including famous personalities like
actor Richard Gere. U.S. President George W. Bush and House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi have made statements supporting Tibet's freedom. Tibet's
exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, is a welcomed guest in North
America and Europe.

In the past couple of months, with the Olympics being held in China,
there has been a renewed worldwide interest in Tibet. Supporters have
organized marches and protest rallies to call on China to listen to
the wishes of the Tibetan people. In Nepal, hundreds of Tibetan
exiles regularly organize protest marches and sit-ins, usually in
front of the Chinese Embassy in Kathmandu.

International media cover these protest rallies in Kathmandu
regularly, often showing pictures of monks being beaten up, dragged
and arrested by the police. These images show Nepal as a nation that
does not welcome dissent and that does not respect freedom of speech.
This is where the country's dilemma over its Tibetan neighbors begins.

Pictures of monks being treated this way while protesting
nonviolently are ugly, but it is important to look at Nepal's
difficult position.

The tiny landlocked nation has an economy ravaged by civil war and no
capacity to defend itself; it is simply in no position to challenge
China. In fact, the only nations that can afford the ire of Beijing
are the United States and the European powerhouses. Nepal is sadly
forced to choose between standing up to its neighbor, with which it
shares a centuries-long history, and fighting for its own economic
survival. It is impossible to judge the country for choosing to save
itself first.

Although Nepal is more dependent on India for its economy, China no
doubt plays a vital role. Trade routes between Tibet and Nepal,
Chinese investment, and the country's support in the international
community are all vital for Nepal.

This does not condone the violence against peaceful demonstrators,
but the international community, especially the Western world, has to
understand the reasons why Nepal is forced to be the "ugly
monk-beater" and provide fair and balanced coverage.

The other side of the Tibetan question is the sheer hypocrisy of the
self-appointed "grand generals" for democracy – the United States and
its European allies. These nations are very quick to support the
Tibetans, but where are those feelings of support and solidarity when
it comes to the people stuck in forgotten tragedies, like those in
Palestine and Sri Lanka? If freedom for Tibetans is important, then
it should be considered equally important for Palestinians to have
freedom and for the people of Sri Lanka to be able live in peace and security.

Is this contradiction because the West is afraid of a rising China
and is using the Tibet issue to gain leverage? Or it because the West
is just following the hot new "in" trend of supporting Tibet, like
students in high school? Whatever the reason may be, until the West
has a more balanced approach to independence movements around the
world and values every suffering citizen equally, it should stay away
from passing judgments on other nations – especially the ones like
Nepal who are economically and defensively weak and who need their
neighbors' support just to survive.

* (Bhumika Ghimire is a freelance reporter. Her articles have been
published at OhMyNews, NepalNews, Toward Freedom, Telegraph Nepal,
Himal South Asian and ACM Ubiquity. She is also a regular contributor
for News Front Weekly (Nepal) and Nepal Abroad (Washington D.C.). She
can be reached at bhumika_g@yahoo.com.)

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